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– Lord Des Browne
Vice Chairman, Nuclear Threat Initiative
India, Pakistan Agree on Security, Confidence-Building Measures
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Howard Diamond

NINE MONTHS after their nuclear tests raised fears of an uncontrolled arms race in South Asia, India and Pakistan agreed to a series of security and confidence-building measures following a meeting of their prime ministers in Lahore, Pakistan, February 20–21. Embodied in the Lahore Declaration and its accompanying documents are steps to reduce the risks of a nuclear exchange prompted by an accident or misinterpretation of a nuclear or ballistic missile test.

Although India and Pakistan have adopted—and largely ignored—confidence-building measures in the past, the new arrangements may prove more effective in promoting trust while leaving the path for nuclear and missile deployments unobstructed.

Noting in the Lahore Declaration the additional responsibilities imposed by their newly explicit nuclear status, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif agreed to intensify their bilateral security dialogue and elevate the talks to the foreign minister level. Since their May 1998 nuclear tests, India and Pakistan have held several bilateral meetings on regional security issues such as Kashmir—most recently at the foreign secretary level in October—without much apparent progress.

The Lahore meeting resulted from a February 3 invitation by Sharif, who invited Vajpayee to Pakistan to mark the initiation of cross-border bus service between New Delhi and Lahore. The meeting enabled the two sides to improve relations by acknowledging each other as nuclear-weapon states—a step the rest of the world has refused to take—and by beginning to establish a stable deterrent relationship.

Yet finding an equilibrium in India and Pakistan's nuclear relations may prove difficult, as both nations are planning to test and deploy new ballistic missile systems. Islamabad is reportedly ready for a second test of its 1,300-kilometer-range Ghauri missile, as well as a first flight test of its new 750-kilometer-range solid-fuel Shaheen missile. Similarly, although New Delhi has allegedly twice postponed test flights of its 1,500-kilometer-range Agni missile, it still plans to proceed with development of the Agni-II, which has a reported range of 3,500 kilometers.

Accompanying the prime ministers' declaration was a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), signed by Indian Foreign Secretary K. Raghunath and his Pakistani counterpart Shamshad Ahmed, which emphasized measures to improve nuclear security and prevent an accidental nuclear exchange. Agreeing to resolve remaining "technical details" in bilateral agreements by mid-1999, New Delhi and Islamabad committed to several steps to reduce the nuclear danger on the subcontinent.

First, the two sides agreed to exchange information on their nuclear doctrines and security concepts. Speaking to reporters, Ahmed said the exchange of information would include data on numbers of nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles as well as deployment information. But with both sides still developing their nuclear arsenals and doctrines, the scope and the level of detail in the data exchanges remain unclear.

Regional media had speculated prior to the prime ministers' meeting on the possibility of a formal no-first-use agreement or a commitment not to target nuclear facilities or population centers. With the two sides' nuclear doctrines still in flux, however, no such agreements were reached.

To prevent accidental nuclear crises, the MOU called for advance notification of ballistic missile test flights and prompt notification of "any accidental, unauthorized, or unexplained incident" regarding nuclear weapons. It also called for each nation to work on measures to improve control over its nuclear weapons. Finally, the MOU recommended reviews of existing confidence-building measures and emergency communications (hotlines) arrangements "with a view to upgrading and improving these links."

The MOU strengthened India's and Pakistan's unilateral moratoriums on nuclear testing by making their commitments binding "unless either side…decides that extraordinary events have jeopardized its supreme interests." Both nations have also said they are prepared to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB) Treaty before September of this year. A spokesman for Pakistan's foreign ministry was quoted in the February 21 Washington Post as saying that Islamabad will "sign [the CTB Treaty] and adhere to it by September." Indian Minister of External Affairs Jaswant Singh, while denying on February 24 that India had already committed to signing the treaty, reiterated New Delhi's willingness to sign pending success in negotiations with "key interlocutors" like the United States.

The next meeting of Indian and Pakistani officials will be in late March or early April, at the foreign secretary level, according to Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz. Aziz has said he would likely meet with Singh within a month of those talks.